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Brandeis responds to recent events in Israel

Since what has been called a “deadly attack against Israel by the Hamas militant group” per Reuters this past weekend, Brandeis students, faculty and staff have come together to support each other. As of the time of writing, the events have left over 1,000 Israelis and at least 830 Palestinians dead, according to Reuters and ABC News.

One Brandeis community member, Professor Emeritus Ilan Troen, lost his “daughter and son-in-law” during the conflict per the Boston Globe. Troen said that “[his] grandson has witnessed the murder of his mother by people who rehearsed what they were doing” in an interview with CBS Boston’s WBZ-TV. In a statement published by CBS News, a Brandeis spokesperson added that the community is “deeply saddened to learn that Professor Troen has lost his daughter and son-in-law in the tragic events that are currently taking place in Israel … We condemn in the strongest way terrorism such as we have seen today perpetrated against innocent civilians.”

These events have been jarring for many members of the Brandeis community. Brandeis Hillel, which describes itself as the “center for Jewish life on campus,” posted on Instagram saying that “the most important thing we can do as a community is support each other.” Brandeis Hillel also announced open office hours with Executive Director Rabbi Seth Winberg and Assistant Director Dr. Samantha Pickette, an informal gathering with Director of Community and Israel Experiences Allyson Tazbin and Peter J. Rubenstein Reform Senior Jewish Educator Rabbi Miriam Hoffman as well as a “community-wide gathering for prayer, reflection, and support,” on this Instagram post.

In a brief interview with The Hoot, an anonymous Brandeis student mentioned that there was a gathering for “Greater Boston Colleges” to “Come Together for Israel” on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at MIT. According to an event poster shared by the student, dozens of Brandeis students attended this “kumzitz, or gathering of song to support each other and stand in solidarity with our friends and family in Israel.” This event had participants from Harvard Hillel, Brandeis Hillel, MIT Hillel and the Hillel Council of New England.

According to an Instagram post from the Revolutionary Students Organization (RSO), some Brandeis community members also attended “a march through Cambridge in solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Students from the RSO attended this march. On that Instagram post, the RSO noted that they “stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their fight for liberation,” also adding that “the colonization of Palestine and the violence of the occupation towards Palestinian people are unjustifiable.”

Additionally, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) posted on Instagram saying that they “rise today in unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian resistance in all of its forms.” They added in this post that they “reject the characterization of Palestinian resistance as ‘terrorism’ as indicated in President [Ron Liebowitz]’s email to the student body. Such a label ignores the ongoing occupation of Palestine, the expansion of illegal settlements and the denial of basic human rights.”

Brandeis community members also received emails from Brandeis’ administration. First, on Saturday evening, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz reached out to members of the Brandeis community. He wrote that “many of us in the Brandeis community have close family, friends, colleagues, and former classmates and students in the region, and many have spent a frightening day trying to reach those who live there.” He also noted that his “thoughts are with all of those who are suffering in the wake of this outburst of violence. In terms of our current students, two are studying in Israel this semester, we have made contact with both of them, and will support them. We are also communicating with faculty in the region, and monitoring the situation to help community members who may need assistance.”

President Liebowitz added that Brandeis has “many faculty and staff in a number of academic departments with deep knowledge of the region and the conflict,” encouraging students to “pursue learning in this area from those individuals.” Finally, he added that members of the community “will support each other,” and urged those in need of support to make use of on-campus resources. The resources listed included the Brandeis Counseling Center, the Center for Spiritual Life, the Dean of Students Office, the Employee Assistance Program, the International Students and Scholars Office and the University Ombuds.

Liebowitz also emailed the Brandeis community to provide updates about Brandeis’ 75th anniversary commemoration. Liebowitz wrote that “while now hardly seems like a time to celebrate, we believe it is important to move ahead with our events as planned to mark this important milestone in our university’s history.” He added that “this weekend is not just about marking our longevity; it is a recognition of our collective dedication and resilience, and the transformative impact our university has had on countless lives over three quarters of a century.”

He also announced that “while plans are still in development, we are making the appropriate adjustments to this weekend’s events which will include remarks, prayers offered, and programming to address the ongoing war in Israel.” Liebowitz also told the members of the Brandeis community that the “Brandeis Department of Public Safety is coordinating with outside law enforcement agencies to arrange for increased security, which will both be seen and unseen. The campus community will receive a separate communication regarding enhanced security, and we will provide ongoing updates to event attendees.” Finally, he noted that “in addition to the memorial service planned for 11:30-12:30 on Sunday, we will be providing other spiritual life offerings throughout the weekend.” Liebowitz closed by saying that he hopes this weekend will serve to “commemorate this important milestone while still demonstrating [Brandeis’] compassion and solidarity with Israel.”

In addition to receiving emails from Liebowitz, Brandeis students, faculty and staff received an email from Brandeis’ Office of Communications. This email told students that “in light of this weekend’s events in Israel, Giving DEISday, Brandeis’ annual day of giving, … has been postponed.” Although a new date has not yet been announced, one will be in the future. As of the time of writing, a timer can be found on the Giving DEISday website that ends at midnight on Nov. 20. The email also notes that contributions made to the university will “still count toward our Giving DEISday goals once the event is rescheduled.” This postponement was also announced in Liebowitz’s second email to community members.

Assistant Vice President of Public Safety and Chief of Police Matt Rushton sent another email to Brandeis students, faculty and staff providing them with safety and security updates for the 75th anniversary weekend events. Rushton wrote that “the safety and security of our campus is always our top priority. Brandeis University police officers are commissioned by the state and have full law enforcement authority. While it would be inappropriate to publicly share the specific details of the department’s activities or interactions with other law enforcement agencies, we can assure you that the Brandeis Police Department participates in an existing network of organizations, which includes Waltham and Massachusetts State Police, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, which is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security. We are in continuous conversation with these agencies to review the latest intelligence.”

He added that members of the community who have spent time on campus recently have likely seen an increase in security patrols, and an added presence from local law enforcement. Rushton also wrote that the university is continuing to “maintain our existing campus security featuresboth from a personnel and technology standpointand have alert systems in place. We will also further increase security during high-profile events, especially during the 75th Anniversary commemoration this coming weekend.”

Brandeis community members also received an email from Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English Jeffrey Shoulson, who echoed the sentiments found in President Liebowitz’s first email to students.

The Hoot reached out to Brandeis Hillel for further comment, and Hillel Student Board President Eitan Marks ’24 responded by saying that “President Liebowitz’s response was swift and decisive, condemning the horrific Hamas terror attacks that occurred last weekend in Israel. We held a community gathering with prayer in the Berlin Chapel on Monday night, the room was packed to the brim with students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds. It was comforting to have President Liebowitz recite a chapter of psalms as part of the ceremony, his response to these tragic events has been above and beyond that of any other university president that I have heard of. As events abroad are unfolding quickly, Hillel is supporting current members of our community, as well as our alumni who live in Israel. Many of us have been impacted by the violent murder or severe injury of a friend or family member. Many of us know people who are missing. Many of us know people who have been called back to defend our homeland, and many alumni are currently doing so. In our community, everyone knows someone who has been directly impacted. Please stay tuned to @brandeis_hillel on instagram to see what resources are available for support. We are constantly updating our feed and stories.”
Marks went on, saying that he thinks it is “completely appropriate for the University to continue with its plans for the 75th celebration. Brandeis University was founded out of the principles of Jewish self-determination and combatting [sic] hate against Jews, that is the message that is needed at this time, and I think the university has remained true to those founding values. I hope people will join us to celebrate Brandeis and what it represents to the world. … I hope that the greater Brandeis community will read this and take a moment to reach out to their Jewish friends and classmates, we are not ok.”

The Hoot reached out to Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine, but the group did not feel comfortable commenting “due to safety reasons.”

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